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Pancreatic Cancer

Mission Cancer brings together a multidisciplinary team of specialists who provide comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of pancreatic cancer. Our patients are able to visit with a number of specialists in one location, receiving comprehensive and convenient care.

Our team of specialists includes:

  • Fellowship-trained hepatobiliary surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Diagnostic radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Genetic counselors
  • Palliative care
  • Nurse navigators

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that starts in the pancreas, a hormone-producing organ located deep in in the abdomen near the small intestine and bile ducts. The pancreas helps the body digest food and absorb nutrients, and produces insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels as well as digestive enzymes that help break down dietary proteins, fats and carbohydrates so they can be used as building blocks for tissues and energy. Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells in the pancreas develop changes in their DNA, causing them to grow uncontrollably and sometimes form tumors.

Most pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts of the pancreas, a type of cancer called pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Less frequently, cancer can form in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas, a type of cancer called neuroendocrine tumors, islet cell tumors or pancreatic endocrine cancer.

Types of Pancreatic Cancer

Exocrine pancreatic cancer

Tumors that affect the exocrine functions are the most common type of pancreatic cancer. They can be malignant or benign. Benign tumors or cysts are called cystadenomas. Most pancreatic tumors are malignant or cancerous.

Types of tumor include:

  • Adenocarcinomas, which typically start in gland cells in the ducts of the pancreas
  • Acinar cell carcinoma, which starts in the pancreatic enzyme cells
  • Ampullary cancer, which starts where the bile duct and pancreatic duct meet the duodenum of the small intestine
  • Adenosquamous carcinomas
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • Giant cell carcinomas

Endocrine pancreatic cancer

Tumors that affect the endocrine functions of the pancreas are called neuroendocrine or islet-cell tumors. These are fairly uncommon.

Types of tumors include:

  • Insulinomas (insulin)
  • Glucagonomas (glucagon)
  • Gastrinomas (gastrin)
  • Somatostatinomas (somatostatin)
  • VIPomas (vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP)

Most of these tumors are benign, but nonfunctioning tumors are more likely to be malignant, islet-cell carcinomas.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Obesity
  • Older age, as most people are diagnosed after age 65

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don't occur until the disease is advanced. They may include:

  • Abdominal pain that radiates to your back
  • Loss of appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
  • Light-colored stools
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • New diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that's becoming more difficult to control
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue

Treatment

Pancreatic cancer treatment is guided by the stage and grade of the cancer. At Mission, we deliver a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, bring together surgical, medical and radiation oncologists with specialized expertise in treating pancreatic cancer, all in one location. Whether you need single, dual or a combination of all three therapies, you can be confident that you are receiving the highest level of care.

Surgery

Surgery is often recommended to remove the tumor. At Mission, we partner with some of the most skilled surgeons in the region with special expertise in the surgical management of pancreatic cancer. The fellowship-trained hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeons at Mission offer the latest minimally invasive surgical techniques.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer includes:

  • Whipple procedure - This is the most common surgery for pancreatic cancer. The surgeon may remove part of the pancreas, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, and the gallbladder and common bile duct.
  • Distal pancreatectomy - The surgeon may remove part of the pancreas and the spleen.
  • Total pancreatectomy - The surgeon may remove the whole pancreas, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, the bile duct, gallbladder, spleen and nearby lymph nodes.

Click here to learn more about pancreas surgery

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. At Mission, our therapists specialize by tumor type. They use the latest technologies and treatments, including the CyberKnife Robotic radiosurgery system, and coordinate care with your surgeon, medical oncologist, navigator and primary care physician to ensure precise and accurate treatment.

Learn more about radiation oncology

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells, and may be used in combination with radiation therapy and surgery. At Mission, our medical oncologists are experts in the tumor-specific disease processes, treatments and research options.

Learn more about medical oncology.

Find a medical oncologist.

Support and Survivorship

We understand a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. That’s why we provide the utmost cancer care, including access to a dedicated nurse navigator, who guides you through each step of the way, from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship. Our GI nurse navigator has specialized training in pancreatic cancer, and will initiate and facilitate timely communication with each member of your care team, provide education, resources, emotional support and access to appropriate support groups and community resources.

Click here to browse our support services